SMART Training –Shifting the Paradigm on Corporate Training

GearsCorporate training continues to be a difficult topic to describe, mainly because everyone seems to “know” what training is, but cannot understand what it is not, even when receiving inferior corporate training. As an adult educator, schooled and experienced in corporate training, let’s discuss corporate training, the principles, the need, and the student.

One aspect of organizational development needs to be considered at the outset, the difference between active and reflective listening. In active listening, the person not currently speaking pays attention to content and intent, engages in emotional meaning, focuses on removing barriers, and remains non-judgmental and empathetic. In reflective listening, the speaker and the listener take active listening and employ two-directional messaging to ensure mutual understanding. The central aim in reflective listening will always be the desire to achieve mutual understanding in communication.

The importance of understanding listening in training remains the utmost concern as the process of engaged, reflective listening producing the environment for the most potential positive training results. The needed 360-degree or two-directional communication to safely and more efficiently operate is critical in training and necessary in communication. Trainers must be able to gather anecdotal evidence and hard data to check for validity and veracity in training operations. Without a quality control mechanism that includes open and honest feedback, the trainer is operating in a vacuum and wasting corporate resources.

The majority of adult educators in the US today, and possibly much of the world, have become convinced of several untruths because the colleges teaching adult education seem fixated on teaching misleading concepts that ultimately do more harm than good. For example, ADDIE, as a methodology tool used to govern training, is useless without a quality control and a return and report function, both of which must be added to the basic ADDIE model; thus changing the design and interposing more personal opinion and bias into what became, with the addition of quality control and two-directional communication, an untested model. Colleges continue to press the ADDIE methodology as the only proper method for instructing adults, without changing or testing the basic ADDIE model. Other untruths include Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” which has been researched and found not entirely accurate, nor does it explain the natural needs and the current model of the world; thus, remaining just Maslow’s opinion.

By teaching untruths to the soon-to-be-adult educators, the adult educators go forth professionally to train other adults, using the same untruths. Thus fulfilling the axiom of GIGO, programmer’s aphorism meaning, “Garbage In results in Garbage Out.” Hence, the untruths are disseminated into future classrooms, and the company and the adult students lack proper training, resources are wasted, and the potential in training is lost.

Putting the value of training in dollars and cents is difficult, but the following will give an idea of the problem. Two kinds of money govern business, blue and green. Blue money is all about the potentblue-moneyial for good or ill to the bottom line of an action, process, tool, employee, etc. Green money is cold, hard, cash, and the food of bottom line health. What is the potential of cross-training employees? If done properly, incalculable positive results and consequences are forthcoming. If done incorrectly, immeasurable adverse effects and consequences will abound. Leading to a stunning observation; if enough blue money is burned, green money evaporates, and the business leaders have no idea how or why the bottom line is vanishing, and market share is shrinking. Since training is all about increasing an employee’s potential and runs the risk of the employee leaving the company, the potential costs and benefits remain difficult to quantify in dollars and cents.

As a newly hired operations manager, I made three expensive presumptions: 1. All the production employees were cross-trained. 2. The machine maintenance had been done properly, and the production machines were in top order. 3. The production employees knew the jobs they were being paid to accomplish. The presumptions cost a lot of blue and green money until rectified, which cost the plant valuable production time, temporary staff increased costs, and the need to perform the production floor manager’s position as well as the operations manager’s role until these three presumptions were corrected. Total cost from my hire date until resolved, 3-months of 50-hour weeks, and more than triple my annual salary in green money. With the total savings from higher potential after addressing the deficiencies, the annual salary of every employee in the plant multiplied by five.

Leading to how to increase potential, decrease blue money evaporation, and develop SMART Training, I have found the following ideas helpful to consider in creating hybrid solutions:

  1. Quantify and Qualify blue money loss. This sounds technical but is quite easy to implement.   I suggest the following principles for review and application:
    1. Respect those around you as potential superstars. Respecting includes employees or customers, vendors or shareholders, deemed less useful. Respect first, last, and always. People will always rise to the level of respect shown.
    2. Change your perception. How valuable or costly is a hammer when directly proportionate to the amount of training in the hands of the operator? If you, as the business leader, are not willing to change how you see the hammer, then it will be impossible to see the worker differently.
    3. Focus on people. Processes are how work is accomplished. Products and services support the company, but the people remain the variable requiring attention. Get out of the office, get onto the production floor, interact, ask questions, and know people.
    4. Freedom to act is a blue money saving principle. If the actions taken by individuals are rigidly controlled, the customer is not served, the problems multiply, and the result is wasted potential. Remember, for every dollar in potential money spent, five dollars in cash evaporates.
  2. Believe in cross training. It is said that Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines love to train. They might grumble, moan, and complain, but the training helps lift the morale, empowers the individual, and enhances the individual self-image and self-worth. The same is true in business and every other human endeavor; embrace a love for training.
  3. In accordance with item two above, make sure that the training is valuable and SMART. Relevant training is a knowledge object that can be used immediately, often, and is easily recognized by other employees as something to aspire to obtain.
    1. SMART training is specific; if the employee is to be a cashier, do not include forklift training with cashier training.
    2. Measurable, can the employee feel they learned a job-ready skill. Attainable training is training that can be achieved. For example, not everyone needs to be a nuclear physicist to perform well in customer interactions. Scale the training to meet the tasks at hand. Yes, training should be tough, but attainable.
    3. Realistic training is directly applicable to daily tasks, not trying to cover 20-years of hypothetical nuance, but realistic to daily production goals.
    4. Timely training means to train the employee to the job standard, as it is designed currently, not 5-10 months down the road.
  4. Training has a shelf life; thus training must adapt and change as the business changes. Allow training to live and die as needed to meet the business needs. This also requires cognizant and purposeful planning for strategic and tactical goal realization. Nothing is worse than receiving training in a classroom, then needing to receive different training on the floor because the trainers do not know current operations.
  5. Organizational design. This topic seems peculiar to mention in an article regarding training, but please note, many times, the disconnect between training and operations is not the training or operations, but how the organization is designed. An example, during a project recently concluded, I saw this principle first hand; a common theme on the production floor was a feeling of disconnect between higher levels, e.g. director level and up leadership and senior manager level direction and down. Because of the perceived disconnect, e.g. front-line employees thinking and feeling the higher level leaders are not interested and engaged, and the real disconnect, e.g. the leaders changing methods of work without understanding the processes, procedures, and technology in the work performed, many problems on the floor were never discussed and resolved, simply Band-Aid solutions applied with the hope the core problem goes away, while complaining that the leaders did not have a clue. Use the following to improve organizational design concerns:
    1. Problems in organizational design are easy to spot and discern during process reviews; this is a valuable time; use it well. Thus, never let a process age beyond 18-months and always ensure each process has a single individual responsible for the shelf life of the process.
    2. Use the quarterly, semi-annual, and annual employee events to listen to employees, talk with staff, and take these thoughts back to strategic and tactical planning meetings to direct resources to qualify and quantify the comments from employees, then act promptly, and keep the employees in the communication loop.
    3. Stop the Band-Aid solutions. If the problem needs a Band-Aid, the problem is bad enough to invest actual time and resources in fixing properly. Communicate using reflective listening to achieve two-directional communication with mutual understanding.blue-money-burning
  6. The student in corporate training can be the customer, a shareholder, a vendor, another employee, etc. Training should be an ongoing topic looked forward to as an enabling event. Want to quickly see if the training is SMART? Listen to the comments made by employees when annual compliance training is announced. If there remains a monumental lack of enthusiasm, training is not SMART, not valuable, and blue money fire pits are raging, burning potential directly and green money by remote. Hence, the following tips should help in understanding the student more completely:
    1. Regardless of mode, make sure the student is known before training occurs. Knowing the student ensures the proper language is employed in offering training, and the trainer and the student can relate to each other and the topic under discussion.
    2. Know what the student expects to receive from the training and then adapt the training to meet the expectation. Even if the student does not know what they desire in post training, allow the student to vocalize and establish expectations.
    3. Confidence in training comes from trainers knowing who they are and what they offer. If teachers are not confident, students will never be confident and will have been taught how not to be confident in acting upon the training principles.
    4. “Enthusiasm,” per Henry Chester, “is the greatest asset in the world. Enthusiasm “beats money, power, and influence.” Enthusiasm is sourced in confidence and trust. Faith in the topic is acquired by being trained and trusting in the application and organizational design to support the issue being taught. Enthusiasm is easily taught; teach by example and others will follow!

Employ voice-of-the-customer (VoC) surveys more completely. Make a team of highly professional, and soon to be promoted to team leader, employees and have them administer the VoC program. Employ the VoC as a tool to improve the business processes, procedures, and organizational design. Possessing inputs for training topics, directing customer interaction resources for marketing, and understanding the role of potential (blue money) inherent in the business products and services, as well as the employees delivering on the company promise for customer interaction, improves the business processes, procedures, and organizational design. By employing seasoned employees, the VoC becomes an organizational tool worthy of the customer and the cost of collecting the customer’s input.

There remains a great need in business for SMART training, which includes realizing the potential in people and processes to influence for good or ill. Tooblue-money-burning-2 often the problem in lost bottom-line or dropping market share is not found in green money costs but in blue money waste. When costs need cutting, always look first for lost potential and save the potential first. If the potential waste is not stopped first, the blue money will continue to burn and will morph into different budget areas because the potential lost is a raging forest fire untended and burning green money.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
Copyright for images used is retained by the original creator and used under fair use.

Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man: Shifting the Leadership and Customer Service Paradigm

quote-mans-inhumanity

Recently, I was asked, “What does customer service mean to you?” The question continues to reverberate in my mind. Drawing upon several recent experiences, let’s discuss why customer service continues to be useless, debilitating, and demeaning. Finally, let’s imagine a way forward, a new paradigm for understanding the relationship between people as human beings, customers, and employees, who all deserve the best customer experience we, the professional customer-facers, can provide.

For the record, my wife considers the first example a genuine customer service success and remains a pleased customer. Since the first example concerns both of us, I see the customer service provided as a fail and will explain in greater detail below. According to my wife, this example is a win because of the treatment and ease of concluding her part in the customer service example. This separation of beliefs highlights another reason why voice-of-the-customer surveys (VoC) should not be a knowledge performance indicator (KPI) for service professionals. Service delivery is ambiguous, and as the disconnection between my wife and I represents, service value is in the eye of the beholder.

The first example begins with Amazon.com. The end user received their order for a product (the customer was served), which also contained two items not requested, not ordered, and not paid for (an additional hassle for the customer). The customer service department, at Amazon.com, was consulted and the agent informed the customer, “Since the cost to return the products did not justify shipping the products back to Amazon, the customer could keep the products” with Amazon’s blessing. This is not a good customer service experience for several reasons:

  1. The customer now has to dispose of new products not needed or wanted.
  2. The only justification for not returning the products was the cost, e.g. inconvenience, to Amazon.
  3. The underlying problem, receiving parts not requested, did not come with a solution that served the customer; nor, did the option to keep the parts improve the customer experience.

While the customer-facing agent was kind, considerate, and per the company guidelines acting in all good faith to the customer, in the interests of the company the customer was not served even though a solution was generated and the customer went away. Consider the person who was supposed to receive these parts. They will have to call and either receive a bill credit or the parts need to be shipped, thus delaying the other customer as well as not serving that customer by respecting their time, resources, and honoring the customer’s commitment to using the retailer Amazon.com. With both customers not being served, how can Amazon.com, or any business organization, dare refer to these customer interactions as “service.”

Regarding the next two examples, I am purposefully vague about the entities committing the customer “dis-service” at this moment, for a reason. I do not want distractions, e.g. reader bias, to interrupt or interfere with the focus upon the incidents by naming the organizations. The second example comes from an infamously poor government office that has a reputation for providing poor service to their customer base. The third example comes from a truly infamous retailer who is already struggling but generally has much better customer interactions. The second and third examples’ names will be provided later in this article.

While dealing with a large government entity, both in person and over the phone, three separate and divergent answers to the same problem were received over the period of five different opportunities to assist the customer. By stating this experience happened with a government entity, many people already are presuming the experience was bad. It was, and this is an acceptable and reasonable policy for bureaucrats to exemplify. I disagree most heartily that any government office can produce poor customer interactions and skate by blithely. Since all governments cannot operate without forced taxation, the government entity should be providing better, not worse, customer interactions than those found in the private sector and the need to hold the government to a higher standard is sorely lacking. More to the point, the original problem remains unresolved more than 15-days after the problem was promised a solution within 5-business days. What amazes me the most in this affair is the nonchalance, non-interest, and forthright noncommittal that government employees are allowed, nay encouraged, to get away with in customer interactions with those same taxpayers, who both need help and pay the taxes to keep the government employee employed.

Third, a recent example occurred during this now past holiday season; a customer approached a company representative for directions; the company representative did not have any pressing duties to occupy his/her time and can leave his/her assigned post to aid customers in improving the customer experience. I know this, as I checked with the manager and witnessed the customer service provider playing on a cell phone moments before being asked a question. The company representative gave a broad hand, and arm gestures yelled at the customer and appeared in all appearances to be inconvenienced by the customer’s request for directions. The company’s policy states the company representative is to walk the customer directly to their desired destination and await the customer’s pleasure to return to their original post as the only method to handle this type of service request. When this was brought to the manager’s attention, the manager acted shocked in front of the customer raising the complaint, and then took no action, as the additional action was deemed “not warranted” per the manager’s murmured comments to other employee’s in the vicinity. More to the point, the manager took the opportunity to bad mouth the customer raising the complaint and presented the complaint to other employees, who “snickered” at the language the manager used to describe those making complaints, while falsely thinking the customer who is raising the concerns was not paying attention.

Finally, a recent example from a major fast food franchise, while Burger King as a corporation should not be held accountable for the work the franchise performed, the customer service example remains priceless in showcasing the uselessness of serving the customer and the need for training customer interaction professionals. While using coupons, the customer became confused in the “legal print, ” and the order took longer to place and pay for than normal. The cashier at this point does three things: 1. Assumes the confused customer cannot hear; 2. Bad mouth the confused customer to the next three customers who were waiting patiently; and 3. Blames the customer for taking too long to order their food. Later, the cashier approached the confused customer, blamed the incident on him, offered a faux apology, and walked off muttering about stupid customers not understanding the reality of fast food restaurants.

In the third example, do not be distracted by the poor leadership being presented by the manager. Focus instead on the customer interactions: two different customer experiences, both deemed “acceptable customer service” by the powers that control the experiences. Neither customer was served nor was the problems solved. The first customer found a more helpful company representative who followed the company policy, and the second customer interaction with the manager only strengthened the customer’s resolve to continue to avoid the retailer. Two opportunities to grow a new relationship, enhance a new paradigm upon the customer, and promote goodwill and loyalty with the local customer base were missed. Customer interactions can and should be held to a higher standard, and the following defines my position that focusing solely on customer service is useless along with steps to improve.

Focusing solely on “serving the customer” is useless as all the customer receives is a meeting of their stated needs. In the third example, the customer received directions; thus, the customer’s need was met, and service was provided. In the first and second examples, the customer needed information and a plan of action to overcome the situation experienced. Even if the work resulted in the customer needing to take more action, the customer was “technically” served. In the fourth example, the confused customer received his food, was able to use a coupon, and was thus “served.” Is it apparent that merely serving the customer is useless?

The service to the customer, while technically meeting the customer’s needs, remains not just poor but pointless; all because the focus of the organization is honed to simply provide “service” or meet the customer’s stated need at the lowest cost, the fastest interaction, and the least amount of effort for the company and those employed to provide customer service. Sometimes all that is wanted by the customer is to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently and courteously and move forward with their lives. This is yet another reason why freedom is needed in customer interactions to serve as needed for each customer making contact. Customer facing professionals deserve better from their leadership than simply “providing service to customers.” Customer facing professionals need leadership, guidance, and freedom to develop the rapport necessary to shine their personal, professional pride into the customer interaction, all with the intent of not merely “serving a customer’s needs,” but providing opportunities for the customer to be motivated to brag about their unique customer experience.

In practice, the following steps should be the underlying governing principles to move from service to professional pride.

  1. No matter the method for customer interaction, make the time to show genuine interest in the customer. This will require making conversation, employing reflective listening techniques to ensure mutual understanding of the customer’s position, and representing the company with professional pride. For the customer-facing employees to show pride in the company the company leaders need to ensure the “What” and the “Why” is known to the employees’ so the employee can exemplify the “What” and the “Why” to customers. Leadership is key to communicating with a purpose and promoting the spirit of reflective listening in an organization. Make the connection of mutual understanding and most of the customer problems shrink in size.
    1. Active listening is good, but it doesn’t make the grade anymore.
    2. Reflective listening is all about making sure mutual understanding has been achieved.
    3. Mutual understanding provides one interaction resolution, goes beyond simple servicing needs, and displays the pride and professionalism of the company’s commitment to customer interactions.
    4. Reflective listening can be employed in voice, email, instant message, and face-to-face customer interactions and reflects an easily attained step up from only actively listening.
  2. Promote the customer experience by not differentiating between external and internal customers, treat them all as valuable customers deserving attention, focus, eye contact, and validation that their concern is justified and worthy of attention. Act in a manner that the customer deserves the best, and the spirit of customer interactions will infuse all the customers with a commonality of desire, hope, and professionalism. As a customer interaction professional, how much better do you offer superior interactions with customers when you, receive excellent customer interactions from the company you spend time representing?
  3. Remember to make the human connection in human interactions. Using reflective listening, focus on the clues, the body language, the tone of voice, and acknowledge these communication streams through competent action. For example, if the customer is perceived as stressed and is speaking in a clipped and hurried manner, respond kindly, but through accurate and speedy action acknowledging the customer’s stress and meeting the customer’s need by respecting their time. Human interactions are improved through human connections that reflect respect and that embody this principle in every human interaction, and the customer-facing employee becomes a customer’s hero. Using the information above, are we not all customer-facing employees; yes, we certainly are!
  4. Freedom to think and act in the interest of the customer, based upon sound critical thinking skills, is exemplified at the time of the interaction without second-guessing after the interaction. This happens more often in call centers, but every customer-facing employee has had this occur to them. At the moment, the decision appeared the best course of action, but after the interaction/interference of a manager or a quality assurance (QA) employee has second-guessed and provided “advice” that does not provide value to future customer interactions, doubt is planted removing confidence in acting appropriately in the future. Does this mean allowing poor judgment to survive? Absolutely not; it does mean that the “advice” needs to model and reflect value for future decisions, not cast aspersions upon the previous decisions.
  5. SMART Training. Everyone knows the axiom for SMART Goals; training should also embody the principles of and reflect SMART, “Specific, Measurable, Applicable, Realistic, and Timely.” If the training does not meet SMART levels, the training is not valuable to the persons receiving the training. Make the training SMART, and the potential for improving professionalism in customer interactions grows exponentially.
  6. Never stop learning, never stop reaching, and never stop growing. How often does training cease for employees after the new hire training concludes? How is a new employee supposed to meet the demands of a constantly changing customer population without ongoing training? More specifically, should managers, team leaders, directors, VP’s, and the C-Level leaders also continue to learn and receive training in their positions, roles, and company? If the front-line customer-facing employees need constant refresher training, then every customer-facing employee needs constant refresher training that meets the SMART training guidelines and provides value to the individual using that training.
  7. Stop wasting resources on unproductive goals, e.g., serving customers with excellence. Serving customers, even with “excellence,” remains a useless and wasteful activity; eradicate the term “customer service” from the company vernacular and memory. Begin by realizing the opportunity provided in customer interactions to grow the business, supporting customer interactions through reflective listening where mutual understanding is the goal, and by acting upon the mutual understanding achieved.

We, the professional customer-facing providers, can and should be able to onboard these principles and lead the eradication efforts to remove customer service from our focus and professional labels. The importance of not serving the customer, but elevating the customer interaction, cannot be understated. The customer experience needs to be elevated with reflective listening and prompt action to mutual understanding and a sense of mutual growth as partners in using the company’s products and services. The customer is too important to continue to waste resources only to serve. Make the opportunity to deliver and elevate, and the bottom-line will take care of itself abundantly. The organization in the second example is the Department of Veteran Affairs. The organization in the third example is Target.

quote-mans-inhumanity-2

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Image Copyrights used under Fair Use and are not included in the authors copyrighted materials.  AZ Quotes retains image copyrights.